Gayle King is opening up about her recent final exchange with the late Cicely Tyson. ET’s Kevin Frazier spoke with King on Friday, and she talked about interviewing the legendary actress just last week for CBS This Morning. Tyson died on Thursday at the age of 96.
CBS This Morning aired King’s interview with Tyson on Tuesday, which has now gone viral. King told ET that Tyson was “full of life” during their meeting.
“When I got the news yesterday, when I got the phone call, I feel like somebody punched me in the chest,” she says of learning of the icon’s death. “You know, at 96 you can’t say death is unexpected, but in this case it was unexpected to me because I had just seen her a week ago. She was so engaged and so full of life and she was talking about things that she still wanted to do, said, ‘I still want to direct.’ She said in her book that it’s better than sitting at home leaving butt prints, those were her words. She still felt that she had other things that she wanted to do, and she looked forward to doing.”
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King said that while she is grieving Tyson’s death, she is also celebrating her extraordinary life. Tyson was an icon of television, film and Broadway, having won Emmy, Tony and Screen Actors Guild awards. She was also a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded to her by Barack Obama in 2016.
“I feel so grateful and so happy that I got to spend time with her a week ago,” King reflects. “I feel conflicted about the emotions I am feeling this moment because how can you not smile when you think about Cicely Tyson? She was grace, she was class, she was essential, that’s what Cicely Tyson was. I adored her, and I spoke with her daughter last night and she was saying she had seen our interview and she really liked the interview. That made me feel, I have to say, really good.”
King recalled their final meeting and asking Tyson about what she thought about death.
“Michael, her confidante and designer, was with her during the interview, so Cicely Tyson was sitting there talking to me wearing Manolo Blahnik pumps,” she shares. “She was dressed to the T, she was ready, she was sitting in church, she was so proud and so happy and she was not finished. And I asked her, ‘Do you think about death?’ And she said, ‘Of course I think about death. I’ve lost many friends, but I feel like as long as you’re still breathing, you have work to do.’ …. I didn’t ask her questions about how do you want to be remembered, do you think about death, because I thought death was near, I only asked the question because she was 96, and to live right until the very end where you still have all of your mental faculties with you and your health is good, that’s a really good life.”
King said she was honored to be one of Tyson’s final interviews and reflected on their many conversations together.
“You know, I talked to her years ago and got to hear her stories of how she doesn’t take a role unless it speaks to her, and she feels a tingling in her skin and she can inherit the character and the roles that she wanted to play to portray Black women and show the humanity of the Black race,” she recalls. “She said these weren’t just acting jobs to her, she saw these as using her platform. She was extraordinary.”
“I bow down to all things Cicely Tyson,” she adds. “I just, I am filled with gratitude that I got to be one of her final interviews and that means everything to me.”
King is participating in a 1-hour special on Tyson, which will air on BET on Sunday. Cicely Tyson: In Her Words premieres on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m. on BET.
On Thursday, a number of celebrities publicly mourned Tyson’s death, including Viola Davis — who played her daughter on How to Get Away With Murder — as well as Shonda Rhimes, Tyler Perry, Zendaya and more. Obama also shared a heartfelt statement about her death.
“At a time when parts for actors who looked like her weren’t easy to come by, she refused to take on roles that reduced Black women to their gender or their race,” he wrote in part. “Sometimes, that meant she would go years without work. But she took pride in knowing that whenever her face was on camera, she would be playing a character who was a human being — flawed but resilient; perfect not despite but because of their imperfections. She helped us see the dignity within all who made up our miraculous — and, yes, messy — American family.”
“Michelle and I were honored when Cicely came to the White House to accept the Medal of Freedom, knowing she was one of the many giants upon whose shoulders we stood,” he continued. “A trailblazer whose legacy couldn’t be measured by her Emmys and Tony and Oscar alone, but by the barriers she broke and the dreams she made possible.”
Cicely Tyson, Emmy and Tony Award-Winning Actress, Dead at 96
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